I’ve always wanted to do something in the creative arts. My mom was a graphic designer so I grew up learning about visual imagery, then I played the trumpet through college and even majored in theatre and moved to LA to try to become an actress! When I moved to Arizona 15 years ago, I got a job as a real estate agent selling new homes for a builder in new home communities. Through that I learned a ton about running a business and staying organized, meeting goals, and being in a customer facing industry.
Through my church, I went on a few short-term philanthropy trips to Uganda where I brought along my very first DSLR camera. The organization I was with had an amazing volunteer photographer who worked all over the world, and did a lot of their marketing photography. Through his photos, I was moved to serve on these trips.
One of the girls who worked for that organization told me about a local First Friday art exhibit here in Phoenix, and asked me if I would be interested in exhibiting some of my Uganda photos in their gallery. I did, and all my friends showed up and were nice enough to tell me how great my photos were and that I should do this for a living. In my head I was still thinking about my “starving artist” days as an actress in LA, and didn’t know how I could possibly give up my real estate commissions and become a photographer.
As it turns out, the guy who helped me hang all my art on the walls at the gallery was a wedding photographer. So I started asking him a ton of questions, and he really helped me out so much in the beginning. He told me about classes I could take, online resources, gear to buy, and he even let me be his assistant at some of his weddings. So, I immersed myself completely in learning everything I could about photography and the wedding industry.
I took 3-4 workshops a year, asked lots of questions in online Facebook groups, and attended conferences. I’ve had to work my butt off as a real estate agent during the week, and a photographer on the weekends. Then, I was able to quit my real estate job within two years, and I’ve been working solely as a wedding photographer for the past 4 years (and making more money than I ever did as a real estate agent).
Wedding photography is ultimately about telling the story of the first day of a couple’s marriage, so that when they look back on their photos years from now, it will bring them back to how happy and emotional they were that day, surrounded by friends and family. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously, and I want to do my absolute best to serve my couples well. Selecting a photographer is a very personal choice for engaged couples, because the photographer brings in their unique vision and personal experience into how they tell the wedding day story.
Engagement sessions are a great way for my couples and I to get to know each other in a relaxed environment. We can take our time, I can help direct them on how to look the most flattering in their photos, and really capture this exciting time in their lives.
A wedding day is a whole other animal altogether! It really is this huge event, that is on a somewhat strict timeline, and everything needs to fall into place in a fast-paced way. I love the energy and buzz surrounding that kind of environment. Family & friends are joined together, thrilled for the couple, dressed in their finest, greeting people they haven’t seen in a long time… all to celebrate the new life the couple will have together. It really is something quite special and I am truly grateful to get to do it every weekend.
One of my favorite moments to capture on a wedding day is just after the first kiss at the ceremony, when the couple is coming back up the aisle, hand in hand, smiling at family and friends who are clapping and cheering. It’s such a fun moment for them and they are so happy! I also really love the parent dances. There are so many emotions and memories wrapped up in those dances. Similarly, I actually really love the “anniversary dance.”
They start with all married couples on the dance floor and do a countdown to the point where the only couple still dancing is the one who has been married the longest. It’s usually the grandparents of the bride & groom. I almost always cry when they say how long they have been married. It reminds me of my own grandparents who have passed away, and that there is hope in the world for marriages that last!
On a professional level, I plan to shoot weddings for awhile longer, but not forever. Shooting a wedding day is incredibly exhausting and can be very painful on your body the next day. You are running around for 9-12 hours, on your feet, with gear on your back, and mentally “on” the entire time. While I love weddings, and I do work out and practice yoga, but I don’t believe documenting a wedding day something my body will be able to physically do as I get older.
I’m considering other avenues such as opening a portrait studio, or doing commercial work. The great thing about this job is that you can create opportunity at any time, and really carve out your own niche, and make it your own.
Personally I plan to travel the world. Whether that be as a destination wedding photographer, or simply for pleasure, I want to see the world and immerse myself in different cultures and environments. See the Northern Lights in Iceland. Chill on a beach in Fiji. You name it.
The town I’m from has less than 100 people who live there, which is pretty typical for rural southern Indiana. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of place, with people on their front porches waving as you drive by, tractors in the fields, lots of forest… the simple life. It’s a beautiful part of the country, very quiet and peaceful, and I love going back to visit.
I try to incorporate those open spaces and nature into my wedding photography. Even in the Arizona desert, you can find green! You’ll find elements of nature all throughout my portfolio.
It has also given me a very down-to-earth, relaxed personality that, even when I’m running around on a crazy wedding day, helps people feel calm and comfortable.
There is no substitute for knowing and being confident in your craft. Learn all you can and then learn some more. Invest in yourself. And learn about business! 80% of the time you are running a business, not taking photos. You have to be organized, efficient, have amazing customer service, hire and train subcontractors, be able to pay your taxes (so many taxes), save for your own retirement, and so much more. I am fortunate that I love the business side of things, and spent 10 years in the real estate industry learning how to do all of that. Many creatives prefer to be a lot more loose with their business and time, so you really have to be diligent about running a thriving, successful business.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is the importance of work-life balance. When I first started, I would be up until midnight on a regular basis editing photos and trying to stay on top of things. I was getting burned out and not finding joy in my work. I always say that if I wanted to do a job I didn’t enjoy, I could go back to my day job. On the one hand working for yourself is great because you can create your own schedule. If you want to go to the movies at 2pm on a Tuesday, you can do it.
But on the other hand, you have to create your own schedule! I now try to stay off my computer after 6:30pm, and try not to work the day after a wedding. I have been outsourcing a lot of my work for several years and that was probably the best choice I could have made for my business and myself. It allowed me the freedom to spend time growing my business, not simply surviving. I am much happier and have time to do the things I love, like focusing on personal projects and traveling. I am passionate about outsourcing both personally and professionally!